Blog: July, 2011
Summer of Smart: Using Technology to Transform our Government
Since President Obama launched his Open Government Directive in December 2009, tech-savvy urban thinkers have been asking, "How can technology improve government and empower communities?" Although the Open Government Initiative suffered a hit when its funding was cut from $35 million to $8 million, nonprofits around the country such as Code For America have continued bringing open government to the forefront of public discussion.
This summer, the Gray Area Foundation of the Arts is hosting San Francisco's first annual "Summer of Smart," a three-month-long program of interactive workshops and seminars exploring the emerging role of the Internet in government. SPUR is proud to be co-sponsoring these events.
The Summer of Smart kicked off in June with programs including a 48-hour intensive "hackathon for everyone" that looked at community development and public art. The event drew a crowd of urban designers, programmers, artists, teachers and government officials, who broke into teams to develop — and then present — prototpyes for improving community-government relations. One group calling itself Yay Taxes proposed an interactive website that would allow people to visualize the connection between beneficial public services and tax dollars by comparing what they think their taxes should be spent on to how they're actually spent. Future iterations of the site could visualize and compare not only spending patterns but politician's voting patterns and neighborhood and regional priorities. Another group known as The Post proposed interactive digital community bulletin boards to serve underprivileged communities, referencing the fact that 30 percent of California residents do not have broadband access at home — a number that jumps to 35 percent among the Hispanic population. GetVolunteered posed the simple question, "What if volunteering could be as simple as going to the movies?" Their proposed online platform would sort volunteer opportunities by location, time and type.
Most projects illustrated the potential innovation that can occur as a result of the democratization of data. In our cities, the divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots" of data and Internet access leaves many communities in the dark. In order for these innovations to become reality, it will take both support and funding from local governments, as well as the creative gusto of innovators such as those taking part in the Summer of Smart.
In a city with a rich history of both grassroots community involvement and technological vision, the remaining Summer of Smart events will undoubtedly attract some brave new ideas. The next hackathon is scheduled for July 22-24, and will focus on "Sustainability + Transportation + Energy."
Weekly Snapshot: Newark is Building for Business
More from the week in urbanism:
Erik Estrada alerts drivers to the upcoming road closures:
Could Mid-Market Become SF's Next Hot Neighborhood?
The Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) has recently launched the Central Market Economic Strategy to bring new life to the Mid-Market area. One of the key thrusts of this effort is the creation of an arts district that builds on some of the existing cultural institutions, including the American Conservatory Theater, Alonzo King Lines Ballet, the SF Film Society and Intersection for the Arts. The Black Rock Foundation, the organizer of the annual Burning Man event, is also slated to move to the area. What if the proximity of all of these arts institutions, in either new or rehabilitated buildings, led to a complete reconceptualization of Mid-Market? Could it become a premier West Coast arts district, a place to come see a play, watch modern dance and walk a few feet to eat at a great restaurant? Such a district could be an incredible benefit to San Francisco as a whole, increasing sales tax revenue and creating new local jobs.
Representatives of OEWD are quick to point out that such a change does not happen over night — and it doesn’t happen without significant investment. There's also a lot of work to be done to attract small businesses, larger employers and housing for families with a mix of incomes. OEWD staffers are currently seeking public input on their draft objectives for the Central Market Economic Strategy (PDF download). Once you’ve had a cup of coffee and reviewed the document, email your thoughts to email@example.com.
Meanwhile, representatives of the SF Planning Department, the Municipal Transportation Agency and the Department of Public Works are in the process of developing a new vision for Market Street. The Better Market Street Plan will make Market Street a better place to walk, bike and take transit. The hope is that this work will make Market Street so much “sweeter for people” (to use the phrase of Danish urbanist Jan Gehl) that it will also become a much better place to stop, sit with friends and people watch.
Does the Bay Area Have the Best Quality of Life -- Or the Worst?
Where does our region stand in terms of human development? According to the report, the Bay Area tops the list for all three human development indicators. Of the 233 census neighborhood groups studied, 11 of the top 20 are located in the Bay Area. Of these 11 groups, one falls within the city of San Francisco’s borders, containing the Marina, Chinatown, and North Beach neighborhoods. To no surprise, the Bay Area residents living the highest quality of life — with an HD score of 9.35 — can be found in the heart of Silicon Valley, in cities such as Los Altos, Mountain View, and Palo Alto. The report refers to this area as the "Silicon Valley Shangri-La."
However it’s not all good news for the Bay Area: Oakland’s Elmhurst neighborhood falls in the bottom twenty, with a human development score of 3.07. The lowest ranking San Francisco neighborhood group is Hunter’s Point and McLaren Park, with an HD score of 4.99. While the Bay Area is an extremely prosperous region, more steps must be taken to improve the quality of life for those living in areas with low human development scores. The report outlines a number of ways to improve human development scores for all of California, which the Bay Area can apply to itself as a region. For example, access to education and jobs should be more evenly distributed and the gap between the haves and the have-nots must shrink, not continue to widen. We must direct attention to areas of concern, not bask in the areas that are thriving, and come together as region to address these serious problems.
Notable facts from A Portrait of California:
- Yearly income in the Bay Area is $37,968, more than $8,000 above the California average
- California life expectancy ranges from 88.1 years in Orange County’s Newport Beach and Laguna Hills to 72.8 years in Watts.
- Only 8 out of every 100 African American ninth graders make it into a four-year California public college.
- In California, there are an average of 90 public school staff members per 1,000 students. This ranks 50th in the nation compared to the national average of 124.7 public school staff members per 1,000 students.
- The report concludes that if every California adult obtained a high school diploma, 317,216 fewer adults would be obese and the state would have 51,081 fewer prisoners.
Measuring San Francisco's Ecological Footprint
How do we know this? By measuring our “ecological footprint,” a measure of natural resource consumption as a function of goods and services purchased. Using natural-resource accounting techniques, the balance of consumption for all countries is precisely measured against the world’s capacity to regenerate those resources. When combined with a mathematical input-output model, calibrated by socioeconomic and demographic data, the analysis can be performed at a wide range of scales: personal, household, factory, company, country, planet.
A few years ago, we invited Oakland-based Global Footprint Network — founded by Mathis Wackernagel, the creator of the environmental footprint concept — to present at a SPUR forum. After the forum, we got to talking about how a San Francisco footprint analysis could broaden the conversation around sustainable urbanism. Global Footprint Network’s staff was interested in bringing its largely international portfolio of footprint analyses closer to home. We put together a research plan and a steering committee, and received seed funding from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation.
The completed footprint study (PDF download) found that the average San Franciscan’s overall footprint was about 6 percent higher than the average American’s. But our average footprint was lower than you might expect since city dwellers generally have larger footprints (due largely to residents’ higher disposable incomes and greater levels of consumption). As you might guess, the categories where we exceeded U.S. averages were consumption of food, alcoholic beverages, restaurants and hotels, and transportation (the latter largely in moving and freight services, and in air travel).
Our work also revealed some universal principles about footprints as they relate to other geographic variables. Some of our analyses compare U.S. city footprints, including San Francisco’s, to urban density and average income to test how these variables affect sustainability. We found that a $1,000 per capita increase in purchases of goods and services correlates with a 0.09 global hectares per capita increase in footprint, while a 100 people per square mile increase in population density is associated with a 0.06 global hectares per capita decrease in footprint. So as a city becomes denser, we reduce our footprint, but as we become wealthier, we increase it. Is there always a tradeoff between quality of life, as measured by wealth, and the ecological footprint? Not necessarily. The pursuit of freedom, good health, fulfilling lives and a high standard of living — in other words, a high Human Development Index, a measure tracked by the United Nations — can accompany a wide range of footprints:
As this Global Footprint Network chart shows, some countries are doing a better job at this than others (hover your mouse over the moving dots to see the country names). Achieving true sustainable development includes both a high level of human development and a low ecological footprint.
In our study, because of data limitations, we had to aggregate results to the entire San Francisco Metropolitan Statistical Area, and not to the city of San Francisco. This was disappointing because we couldn’t determine the footprint outcome of city sustainability measures such as our high recycling rate, green building requirements, climate action plan and high level of transit ridership. It also limited the study in some areas and introduced error, because we had to use national averages rather than regionally specific production factors. For example, it doesn’t make sense that the San Francisco Metropolitan Statistical Area has an above-U.S.-average footprint for energy, water and other utilities. The majority of the water supplied to San Francisco, the Peninsula and the East Bay is delivered by gravity, and our energy utilities — public and private alike — are among the cleanest in the country. California also has much better energy-efficiency performance than the U.S. as a whole, so you would expect our utility footprint to be lower all around.
Our analysis, which includes suggestions of areas to pursue further, goes about as far as an initial footprint study realistically can. But this analysis could be used as a baseline for more issue-specific work. For example, at SPUR we will be delving into the food sustainability question — by far, the largest component of any U.S. footprint analysis — through the work of our new Food Systems and Urban Agriculture program, which launches next month.
Public Workshop #2: Break-out Group Results
Hello Ocean Beach go-ers!
The Ocean Beach Master Plan team is busy at work processing the input from Public Workshop #2, and we thought you may be interested to take a look at the results yourselves. Photographed below are the ideas generated by the break-out groups at the workshop (please note: the names of individuals were blurred for their privacy).
To see larger versions, please check out our flickr stream here.
GROUP D * (*group D did not provide a final paper image this was approximated based on the consensus indicated in their notes)
As always, your feeback is welcome! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Ocean Beach Master Plan Team